Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton

2023 Professionalism Award for the Ninth Circuit

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA–Phyllis J. Hamilton has been selected to receive the 2023 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Ninth Circuit. Hamilton, who will receive the award during the 2023 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, has been a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California since 2000. She served as chief judge from 2014 until 2021—the first African American woman to do so in the court’s history—and assumed senior status in 2021.

“Judge Hamilton’s distinguished career embodies the exemplary character, integrity, professionalism, and dedication to the rule of law required of recipients of this award,” writes Judge (Ret.) Edward Torpoco, president of the Edward J. McFetridge American Inn of Court.

Hamilton has devoted almost her entire career to public service. Before being nominated to her role as U.S. district judge by President Bill Clinton, Hamilton served as a U.S. magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California from 1991 to 2000. During her more than three decades as a judge, she has presided over 7,389 civil cases and cases involving 1,753 criminal defendants. She will continue to carry a caseload now that she has assumed senior status.

Before her federal judicial service, Hamilton served as court commissioner for the state court for Alameda County and administrative judge for the San Francisco regional office of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. She began her career as a deputy public defender in California’s Office of the State Public Defender in San Francisco.

One of her proudest accomplishments is her work with the Ninth Circuit Wellness Committee, which she has chaired for more than a dozen years. As part of that work, she collaborated with the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California San Francisco to develop a study to help determine whether judges’ cognitively challenging work helps them slow or even avoid severe cognitive decline as they age. Approximately three dozen judges from courts throughout the Ninth Circuit voluntarily participated in the study by undergoing intensive cognitive and neurological testing.

Among her awards, Hamilton received a Legendary Champions of Justice Award for judicial excellence from the California Association of Black Lawyers in 2022 and a Trailblazer Award for mentoring young lawyers from the Charles Houston Bar Association in 2021.

Hamilton earned an undergraduate degree from Stanford University in 1974 and a cum laude law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law in 1976.